I Wish: What if lacrosse had become the biggest sport?

On a facebook page today, I said to someone that I wish lacrosse had become the dominant sport in the past, not “football”.  How much different would the sporting landscape be?  Take away the elitism that lacrosse is viewed with now, and it would be a better game for many reasons.

Women and men can both play.  It’s not a gender specific sport.  At US colleges and universities and elsewhere, both women and men play the game, though I do object to the fact that women usually only wear eye protection while men wear helmets, gloves and shoulder pads.  They should wear the same equipment and play by the same rules, just like hockey players.

Lacrosse can be played anywhere.  If you have a flat surface, sticks and goals, you can play lacrosse, whether in a gymnasium, a grass field, or even an asphalt basketball court.  Unlike baseball or football which require large playing surfaces that may not be available, lacrosse requires no more room than does basketball. It can be played on a surface as small as 50′ by 100′ or as large as 50m x 100m.  For US inner city neighborhoods, it would be as attractive as basketball and far less expensive and weather-restricted as hockey.

The basics are affordable.  Goals, plastic sticks and a ball are no more expensive than plastic floor hockey equipment.  Schools with limited budgets could afford them, which would make the game available to US public schools with poor funding.  Large investment would only be needed for players who show elite talent.

It’s primarily a waist-up game.  Other than dirty play, most contact is upper body only.  Injuries to the lower body would be far fewer and mostly due to awkward accidents, not deliberate intent.

Violent upper body contact can be limited.  Unlike football with constant head contact, concussions and subconcussive hits, lacrosse has no more head injuries than hockey.  And if contact is limited to the shoulders and arms and head hits banned (e.g. pushing and shoulder checks, not clubbing with a stick), head injuries and cases of CTE would be far fewer.

Size is less of a factor in player success.  Unlike basketball and football which demand larger and taller players, small players can survive and thrive in lacrosse (and sometimes in hockey).  Speed, vision and stickhandling skills are far more important.

It could be an international game.  It could be as much an international game as football/soccer, not just dominated by Canada and the US sport and a minor sport elsewhere.  The skills involved are similar to other popular sports (e.g. field hockey, rugby, team handball, basketball, football/soccer, etc.) and requires less room than football/soccer. Tae Kwon Do became a worldwide and olympic sport within fifty years.  Why couldn’t lacrosse?

Imagine if a professional lacrosse league had existed in in 1957 and Jim Brown had chosen that road instead of the NFL.  And imagine the economic impact if cities had recognized that arenas are better investments than stadiums.  Where would pro sports be today?